How To Sell Handmade Products At Markets. part 2
Product range and choice + stock levels.
Ok, this is where your research pays off. When you first checked out the market for viability and competition you should have noted who your competitors would be and gained a rough idea on what prices they charge.
This is where it really matters if you are a business, as getting this wrong can slow down your progress dramatically. We have discovered that selling wood products is easier if you have a plan.
We started selling years ago with a broad range of items and found over time that some just didn’t sell, no matter the price. These were soon dropped and replaced.
Over time we have been able to refine the product range to a manageable list that we can expect to sell in a reasonable time. There are some pieces that linger and are removed but this happens less and less these days.
Stock levels can be tricky. You never know when you can get a rush on a particular product so we carry at least two markets displays worth at any point in time. This allows us to bank time and product between markets in case unforeseen events happen between markets and we cannot make the items in time. We call this sales insurance.
There is strength in diversity. Don’t pigeonhole yourself with only one or two products. Details on this further below.
If you can dedicate the space within your display, we suggest you devote a small space for product development.
Trialing new ideas and seeing how the customers take to them is invaluable input. Don’t give too much space to them but bring one or two and see how they go. If they are popular then produce more and allocate them a little more space while removing others that seem to have no interest shown them. It is best to write off research and development costs. Trying to build them into the price of products will just push you out of reach for many people.
You need to always be bringing fresh ideas to the market as this keeps your regulars interested and buying. You have already established a level of trust with them and selling something new and interesting is far easier than converting a complete stranger into a regular. Play smart, and prosper. The regulars love it, and can become good friends. It also allows you to keep improving your skill level in your craft.
How your Display helps to work out your prices
In this section we hope to highlight the intricate connection between the quality of your display and the prices you can ask.
There is always a battle on how to price your work. It becomes even harder when you are an artisan who makes one off pieces and you soon discover you can’t work to an hourly rate in this business.
Sometimes time just gets away on you in the workshop and the piece eats the day away. When you add up the hours and do the calculations you just know that the number you see will not pass at the markets. That piece is certain to sit and sit and sit. What do you do about it? The way we handle this is to acknowledge that this will happen and allow a space in the display for one only in this category.
In our stall we have a huge range of products and prices, and we plan out the display so that every wood product helps to support the next one. Keeping your display consistent throughout so that everything flows from one item on display to the next is key. There should be no clash or visual blockage points.
When customers expectations are set even before they enter the stall, the display has done its job. It should be of no surprise to a customer that there are items that are of a higher quality than elsewhere and are priced accordingly.
Have you noticed the vases yet? This article may seem like an ad to sell them but it is not; we are showing how something like these vases sets expectations before the stall is entered. The hard work has already been done when the customers arrive.
They set the bar of expectation at a nice level that allows us to actually play a little on the artistic side more often and sell those items in a reasonable time frame at a reasonable price.
Naturally there are limits as to how far you can take this, but it has worked for us and we think it’s worth sharing.
We mentioned above about pigeon holing yourself and exposing your business to unnecessary risk. Let’s address this problem now.
The story below highlights the risks in having one or two product lines.
Every so often new players arrive at the markets who have decided to sell their wood product. This may be someone who has received “free wood’ or a retiree looking for an outlet. There are several variations of this scenario that present risk to your business.
We can say with some confidence that these people didn’t go through the suggested steps above from the beginning. What they failed to see, because they didn’t do any due diligence at the beginning, is there are already other people selling similar products and are already involved in a price war.
We call it The cutting board wars.
This happens when the new arrival has decided the first doable project they will attempt is a few cutting boards and the next step is to take them to market. “It will be easy”.
The barrier to entry on a product like a board is low so it seems to attract a lot of these “arrivals”.
Here lays the problem… in order to sell or even “out sell” the board seller next door the new “arrival” sets the lowest price and the existing board seller drops prices in retaliation; The next thing you know there is a race to the bottom. The lowest price seller appears to do well.
In order to have enough stock to bring to market next time they need to make more. No matter the Wood product, time is needed in order to deliver a quality product that is appreciated. If they are “pumping out” products to meet a price then quality ends up abandoned.
This will reflect in their sales because people are not stupid or silly. They will not part with their hard earned dollars for the “rush to market board”.
Eventually a member of this exclusive “Cutting Board War” club will leave the market when the “Free” wood supply has dried up.
Why would they buy wood to make boards and then sell them at a loss? But as one competitor leaves the field, in steps the next contestant who has a pile of “free wood” and he thinks “I know, I’ll make cutting boards and take them to the market. I’m a genius it will be easy money” And so the War continues.
Don’t be one of these guys with one product, taking part in the race to the bottom.
Under no circumstances are we saying not to sell Cutting boards. What we suggest is to have a range of boards and other items. In other words DIVERSIFY
Meeting customers’ expectations
This is about the finish quality of your products. People love to touch wood.
The fingers trail across the surface and translate the feeling to the brain. What is going on here is the fingers are seeing better than the eyes. That faint trace of grit left on the underside of the turned bowl; you can’t see it.
But when you run your hands around the bowl, that faint trace feels like a mountain. You are not alone with this ability.
Your customers have it also and they have two feet that will turn and walk out of your stall quicker than you can blink.
They will have felt duped and betrayed because from a distance your display promised so much; the customer came into your stall with high expectations and your bowl with that gritty mountain said that this finish is not up to my expectations, so I’m leaving.
They probably won’t return.
Expectations VS Reality.
It is normal to start at the markets with high expectations. You wouldn’t turn up if you expected abject failure now, would you?
The reality is somewhat of a mixed bag. There are days and events where you could sell your chair ten times over and other days and events where you wonder why people are even there.
You may also have high expectations of how a potential customer should act, however not all customers who enter your stall are respectful and will some say some pretty nasty things that can put a cloud over a potentially wonderful day. There is nothing we can say to help you deal with this other than be prepared. It will happen sooner or later.
Most will be respectful and we do appreciate them and their delightful conversation; but every now and then some peanut turns up full of self-importance and opinion. Don’t let them worry you.
It is imperative that to be successful you need to be honest with yourself. Have a good look at your display and your products; are you standing out from the crowd? Do you have some special item that can draw people in?
We use 3 Floor vases.
The opposite of standing out is melting in. It is easy to just let things slide and have low expectations about the markets and this line of thought lines up with the thinking of the hobbyist.
Near enough is not good enough for a business stall. We have attended many markets and have always approached the next market with some sort of incremental improvement from the last. It is the only way to survive, thrive, and prosper.
A few final words.
Learn to communicate your love of your craft to the customer; they intuitively know “real” and “genuine”. This will be reflected in sales.
We wish you well in your journey.
Tim and Tui
Pickers Ridge Hardwood Designs